Thoughtful & Abstract: Watching TV While the Band Plays On

Kim and Shawn reflect on five positives from a weird year of entertainment.

Five Shows Kim Watched Since March

You know, a while back, The Walking Dead ruined all interest I had in TV.  I never finished the last season.  I know it’s there waiting for me, I’m just not sure I’m ready to be let down.  After all, 2020 has been a shit show all on its own and I’m not sure I want to add to that just yet.  Let me ease into 2021 first and then I can start the disappointing ride all over again. 

The thing is, with the bars and restaurants closed at some point over the past eight months, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to sit and watch some things.  Not all good, but definitely not all bad.  Please read further to find out five things I’ve watched since March, aside from my ass growing. 

5) Tiger King (Netflix) – Speaking of a shit show, there was no greater one than this gem.  I know, I know, everyone has an opinion on this.  It got a whole lot of hype and a lot of great memes.  But there’s something about it that made me have to watch.  I’m not sure if it was how terrible every single person on the show was or how horribly it was pieced together.  I mean when the most likeable guy on the show is a guy who was reported to be the inspiration for Scarface‘s Tony Montana, you’re not exactly getting Emmy-winning TV.  What you will get, however, are seven episodes that will make you fully understand politics in a way you’ve never understood them before.  You will have a glimpse into a sex cult, learn what kind of cologne to avoid around tigers, and you’ll learn a new song… “I saw a Tiger…the tiger saw man” (you know you’re singing along).  Not only these things, but as a bonus, you get a serious dislike of that bitch, Carol Baskin. 

4) Ratched (Netflix) – I’m going to put Ratched way back in my number 4 spot.  This show had so much potential.  I think Sarah Paulson did a fantastic job.  She can portray the type of sweet-evil character that rivals Nancy Pelosi. Sharon Stone’s eccentric millionaire is probably my favorite character on the show.  Come to think of it, she may have been the better choice to play Nurse Ratched.  However, for something that’s supposed to be a back story to the actual Nurse Ratched from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it really fell short.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it.  However, the way the show ends doesn’t really explain much of anything we see in Ratched’s future life.  It has the appropriate amount of shock and horror you’d expect from a Netflix show, but it still left me wondering what happens between the end of this series and the beginning of Cuckoo’s Nest to wind up with the nurse we know and…love?  As a stand-alone show, I’d give it two big thumbs up – both with plums from a pie on them.  However, as a precursor, I’m just leaving those thumbs in the pie and hoping that I don’t get burned.

3) Virgin River (Netflix) – This is simply just a super cute show.  You knew I had to have one, right?  To be honest with you, it’s everything I love about This Is Us at a much quicker pace.  Sure, the characters don’t have a lot of depth like you get in This Is Us, but I know enough about them to care what happens to them.  A slice of small town Americana mixed with some romance, intrigue, and a little bit of humor.  The ability of this show to bring tears to my eyes doesn’t rival This Is Us, which makes me bawl like a baby nearly every episode, but the tears come at just the right times.  Real-life type stories that hit me right in the feels.  It helps that I like Alexandra Breckenridge.  It helps even more that Martin Henderson and Colin Lawrence are very easy for me to look at for hours on end.  Sure, they need to be shirtless a little bit more, but I’ll take what I can get.

I will warn you though, this series is based on a Harlequin Romance book series, so there’s goofy love and once or twice someone is pushing their manhood up between her quivering thighs into the most sacred spot – where no man has been for a year.  But hey, I liked reading those as a teen and it translated well to a mushy little series that avoids the overly tacky. 

2) Don’t F**k with Cats (Netflix) – So, this show is just all kinds of messed up.  I think we’ve all seen some horrible things on the internet and have asked ourselves the same questions: 

  • A) Is this for real?
  • B) Can I put my internet sleuthing skills to use and bring down a horrible person who isn’t my ex?

Some of the pieces in this mystery are so fantastical that you think there’s no way this can be real.  What I learned from this show is that you shouldn’t mess with nerds on the internet because they will find out all of your secrets.  I’ve been on Facebook for over a decade and the amount of information you can glean from the posts of random strangers can give you such a need to know more about how messed up their lives truly are.  Who among us hasn’t read 435 comments from people bickering back and forth about who won the presidential debates (C’mon, man!) only to look up the profiles of random strangers, needing to know every last thing we can about them?

While I understand this was a story about how internerds came together to try and take down a simply evil human being, it really gave me pause about how deeply I want to investigate every boy my niece dates.  Or maybe it encouraged me, just to keep her safe. 

1) Hunters (Amazon Prime) – A group of Jewish people hunting down and killing Nazis in America? Check! The group led by Al Pacino? Check! Murders? Check! Kate Mulvany playing a bad-ass nun in hooker shoes killing people? Check! Twists and turns that kept me coming back? Checkity Check! This show really sucked me in and Jordan Peele proved once again that he has something to say other than “A-A Ron or Jay Quellin”.  Real-life events tied to fictional Nazi plans to take over the world was a spectacular touch. I will admit to using the Google machine to research certain dates that come up in the show to see if I could figure out what was going to happen next.  Happily, I was wrong at almost every turn. 

Considering all that’s going on in the world today, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Corona Virus was put into corn syrup as part of an evil plan in place to restore Nazis to their former “glory”.

I’d love to sit and talk about the characters, the twists, the shocking story lines, but I don’t want anyone to not fully enjoy all this show has to offer.  I’m really quite hopeful for a second season, as I think there are so many places to go with it.  However, there is the possibility that this show has already jumped the shark with the closing scene of the season.  Of course, I will reserve judgment to see where the writers take it.  A perfect blend of action, comedy, and some historical stuffs came together with a colorful cast of characters, making this hands-down the best thing I’ve watched since CNN’s coverage of the election. There are some difficult scenes to watch, but they’re necessary to understand where these people are in their lives and how they got to their 1977 selves, 32 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.

The hunters, led by Pacino’s Meyer Offerman, are an incredibly diverse cast of characters sharing a common goal of justice for all Jewish people.  Logan Lerman plays Jonah Heidelbaum, a kid raised by his grandmother and drawn to the group after witnessing her murder.  Louis Ozawa plays Joe, who is sadly the most forgettable character, though what he brings to the story line at the end of the show leaves you wanting so much more of him – and maybe less clothing.  Josh Radnor provides some comic relief as Lonny Flash, a washed-up actor turned Nazi hunter.  Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane are phenomenal as the lovely old Jewish couple that everyone wants to invite to all of their gatherings.  Tiffany Boone and her magical hair is Roxy Jones and there wasn’t a single scene she was in that disappointed me.

Lena Olin was perfectly cast as the big bad in the show.  Dylan Baker wowed as a politician named Biff (which was the perfect name for him).  As great as all of these people are in their roles, Greg Austin is the shining star of this series.  He represents everything that is wrong in this world.  I spent the series hoping someone would off him, but realizing that without him, the show would fall flat.  There’s just something about his deliciously evil psychopath, Travis Leich that you love to hate. 

I’m counting on Season 2 to delve a little deeper into the killer nun, because I still have a lot of questions about her and several other hunters.  How’d they get there?  What’s their story?  Bravo to Amazon Prime for turning out some quality TV – much better than any network in many years.   

Five Shows Shawn Watched Since March

The year started pretty promising from a TV and movie point-of-view.  The first few months had Watchmen and The Outsider.  There was a general uptick in the stories in my CW superhero shows and there was one of the better seasons of Survivor in a few years.  And then the bottom fell out.  My DVR has not been as bereft of new shows since I remember getting the first one roughly 20 years ago.  Add to that, no bars, restaurants, and movie theaters and it’s led to some deeper discoveries and revisits.  I’ve leaned on a deeper dive into the entertainment apps.  It’s a bit overwhelming but I’ve learned to scour Netflix, HBOMAX, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Samsung TV, Pluto TV, Tubi, and YouTube to sort through the options.  Old game shows, Westerns, sitcoms, and even old sporting events have all been in the mix this year.  I’ve started watches and rewatches at any given time this year of shows like M*A*S*H, Buffy, Angel, Amazing Race, Star Trek, and Criminal Minds.  Of the “newer” or “new to me” items – this is what stood out.

5) The Painter and the Thief (Hulu) – My year of documentaries has been really wonderful.  Into the void of scripted dramas has come a wealth of documentaries that are getting a higher profile without competing fictional films on the horizon.  It’s hard for me to come up with my best 25 of the year, but for purposes here, I picked two of the ones that have stuck with me the most.  First is this story that would be totally panned as unbelievable if it was the newest Christopher Nolan release.  An artist befriends the man who stole her paintings.  Not just a friendship but a very layered relationship that addresses crime and punishment, the power of art, and ultimately, the connections that people can form.  It’s touching and tense in equal parts as you never really trust that either has an understanding of the other.  This is a story that ultimately shows that kindness is the best path.

4) Broadchurch (Netflix) – I revisited this 2013 mystery for Season One of three.  I watched this when it first aired and skimmed it too quickly  I never gave it the proper due and by Season Three I realized that I needed to go back to the beginning one day.  That day was in 2020.  This show combines a tricky and painful mystery surrounding the death of 11-year-old, Danny and the investigation by D.I. Alec Hardy and Detective Ellie Miller.  The acting by David Tennant and Olivia Colman are the real stars here.  The chemistry is comparable in many ways to Mulder and Scully without the romantic overtones.  The British really do mysteries better than Americans and this is a proud example.

3) Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix) – Richard Johnson and his daughter, filmmaker, Kirsten Johnson face his descent into dementia and impending death by staging outrageious deaths on camera.  There’s such a tender and frank way they face the fear of death that I just haven’t found in other works this year.  The most poignant moments are just when the camera rolls and we see Dick as she sees him.  Those moments play well against his playful moments.  There’s a nice parallel between his postive playful banter and the way they stage these “deaths” together.  The daughter and the father are connected by this light way of looking at life and it imbues the film with less sadness than might ordinarily play out in a film about the loss of a loved one.

2) Stath Lets Flats (HBO MAX) – I debated starting Fleabag earlier in the year and just didn’t have it make it to the top of the list.  Recommendations for comedies kept coming up for this show with the most common comparison to The Office.  That’s some pretty high praise but not unworthy.  Stath (Jamie Demetriou) is trying to take over for his retiring father at their leasing agency.  He is definitely a Michael Scott character, speaking before thinking every moment. The supporting cast of the leasing office is what really rounds out this British comedy —  Carole (Katy Wix), painfully shy Al (Alastair Roberts) and his overly happy sister Sophie (played by his own sister Natasia Demetriou).  This show has had two seasons in 2018 and 2019 and feels like a show that will have cult status for years to come.

1) What We Do in the Shadows (FX/Hulu) – After reading so many positive reviews, I dove into both seasons of this show during the Summer.  It’s a show that you need to watch and share with others.  It’s best experienced as a group effort because there are so many lines to repeat and share.  I’ll agree that Season Two was an improvement on the first but really the twenty episodes at a half hour each are not much of an investment compared to other shows.  The cast here is what makes the show.  There’s an ongoing story that has gotten more layered and complicated as the season progressed that pays off in the ending.  The chemistry of the leads is palpable and they seem to feed off of each other.  Nadja (Natasia Demetriou making her second appearance in this list) and Colin (Mark Proksch) are great but the real stars for me are Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nandor (Kayvan Novak).  Best episodes — “Brain Scramblies” and “On the Run”.

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Shawn Bourdo

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